Coping With Pressure When Sight Singing
Updated: Feb 25
Coping with pressure when singing?
First of all what do I mean by pressure when singing?
Do I mean vocal pressure - No
Do I mean emotional and mental pressure - Yes
I've been a professional singer for over 30 years and if any of you think I don't feel pressure when I sing you'd be wrong! I talk a lot about dealing with pressure, and also give you lots of coping mechanisms in my online sight singing course, Sing By Sight, because sight singing can add so much to this feeling of pressure and you need to learn to cope with every situation in a calm and positive manner.
In this blog however, I going to look at my own experience of pressure and use a job I was booked on to demonstrate how I coped with it.
The emotional pressure I'm talking about can come in many different guises, here are some:
worry that I won't be able to sight sing my vocal part
panic that I can't deliver the 'goods' vocally
nerves that I may not be able to cope with the conditions
My Personal Situation
This is a photo of me with top Hollywood composer, Alan Silvestri at the end of the Big Band session for the Avengers:Endgame movie soundtrack at Abbey Road Studios, London.
This job was pretty stressful as it was the first recording session for the movie soundtrack and everyone was over from Hollywood to sit in and hear how it was going.
Fortunately, Alan is one of the worlds most lovely people, so kind and generous as a person and a super talented musician. This made life a lot less stressful and really took a lot of pressure off me - I knew I wouldn't have to deal with someone who added pressure to the situation, and who instead was kind and calm, this makes a huge difference!
So let's look at each of the points I mention above and see how I dealt with each of them on a top Hollywood move soundtrack session.
1. Worry that I won't be able to sight sing my vocal part.
For this soundtrack session the situation was a little different than normal. On a regular movie soundtrack session you walk into the studio with no prior knowledge of the music you're going to be asked to sing. This can be very stressful as you can be given literally anything to sight sing and in any style, and it's your job to read the music and respond to the composers wishes.( Sing By Sight is a fantastic sight singing course as it prepares you exactly for this type of scenario.)
In this situation you need to keep calm, remain focused on the job you're asked to do, ignore external distractions (eg people chattering) and prepare yourself mentally and physically to sing. Be disciplined in your approach to the music and listen to the MD for performance notes. It's also really good to have a process you go through that is the same every time you're asked to sight sing.
On Sing By Sight I call this process your Routine For Reading. It is a process that is exactly the same every time you pick up a piece of music - you read the key signature, the time signature, the notes, the rhythm, the lyrics then any other instructions.
By having this routine you give yourself a bit of stability in an unstable situation! Your attitude can be:
'I don't know what is going to be on this page of music but I know I have a process I can follow that will keep my mind clear and allow me to take in as much information as I can to help me sight sing this piece of music to the best of my ability.'
On Avengers:Endgame however, I was given the music 4 days in advance because I was a featured soloist. This meant I could spend all that time doing my homework and preparing for the session. My preparation involved singing the song numerous times so it sat comfortably in my voice, then working on style and delivery so that I was able to respond to anything Alan asked me to do (ie change the phrasing, change my vocal sound, change note values etc).
2. Panic that I won't be able to deliver the 'goods' vocally.
Again this session was a little different from the norm. As a regular guest soloist with the BBC Big Band I have lots of experience singing with big bands and singing this specific style of music. I was booked for this particular session because the fixer was aware I had lots of experience with this style of singing, and was also aware that I have worked at this level a lot before (on numerous movie soundtracks) so could cope with this high pressure situation.
As the piece I was asked to sing was well within my comfort zone I wasn't worried about whether or not I could deliver the goods vocally, however I was also aware I couldn't be complacent about the job I had to do. Every job, regardless of its size or requirements needs to be respected, and attention to detail is one thing that will take away any element of panic you may have when you are feeling under pressure.
3. Nerves that I may not be able to cope with the conditions.
As I said, this session had the potential to be a hugely stressful situation - we were in a very expensive recording studio, there are lots of top UK musicians around me, the composer is in the control booth, half of Hollywood is in the control booth (!) and time is money!!!
That said, it makes a huge difference that I've been in that particular studio numerous times, I'm going to be singing a style of music I love (and I'm very good at!), I've been given the music is advance so I'm fully prepared, the composer is kind and warm-hearted, and all the musicians are my friends. All of this makes such a difference, but also a combination of
preparation and experience means an awful lot on a job such as this.
If you do find yourself in a high pressure situation try to visualise a place you feel comfortable and secure in and put yourself there mentally. Again practice this visualisation technique, it's not a natural thing so you will need to work on it, but it so useful to be able to do and to be able to control emotions, feelings and stress.
So let me list ways which will help you cope with pressure:
If you've been given the music in advance, be as prepared as possible. Go over and over the piece several time, really sing it into your voice and if you feel you need some coaching for it, book a session with a good vocal coach.
If you've been booked for a sight singing job remember your Routine For Reading (something I look at in detail on Sing By Sight), have a process you use when sight singing that allows you to focus on the music you've been handed, block out distractions and concentrate.
Try to make sure you know what you will be required to sing in terms of vocal style and be confident with your vocal ability. If you know your voice is the correct voice for the job you have been booked on that is one less thing you need to think about.
Be careful with the jobs you accept. Don't agree to do a job that you know in your heart you're not right for. You will end up very stressed and may also end up annoying the person who booked you because you've wasted their time. Be honest about your ability, especially your sight singing skill level.
As a professional vocalist you really need to be able to cope with pressure, and being confident with your sight singing can make a huge difference to your nerves, panic and worry, and take one level of pressure off you.
Sing By Sight is a fantastic sight singing course that helps you gain the confidence and security you need to feel when walking into any singing job. As both a professional vocalist and a teacher, I know what is needed for vocalists to be strong sight singers and I deliver all that information on Sing By Sight - information that's useful and real world.
Head over to Vocal Vista to discover more about this amazing sight singing course and put yourself in the mix for some of the top jobs in the music business!